I Was There: How Kanye West’s Secret Show Almost Induced A Riot

Kanye West Liberates Remixed And Remastered 'The Life Of Pablo' On Spotify And Apple Music

Kanye West Liberates Remixed And Remastered 'The Life Of Pablo' On Spotify And Apple Music

When the great and illustrious Kanye West calls, you answer.

Technically, in my case that call came in the form of a 10:30 p.m. email last night from Eddie STATS asking if I was interested in checking out the then-not-yet-announced Kanye West x Vic Mensa show at Webster Hall. The spirit of Yeezus compelled me all the same, so despite being “in” for the night, I decided to put on some pants, head out to the city and see what’s going on.

If you haven’t heard by now, the third and final day of New York’s Governors Ball music festival (of which Kanye was scheduled to headline) had gotten canceled due to premature weather forecast fear mongering. Thousands of millennials were trapped in the rainy streets of New York for the day, unsure of what to do to fill the void of performances they were eagerly awaiting. News began to filter the interwebs and the Twitterverse that artists were announcing surprise shows throughout the city. Instantaneously, the streets were abuzz. Of course, Kanye Tudda, an international man of mystery, had some friends release cryptic messages about a 2:00 a.m. show taking place at an undisclosed Manhattan location, which is how I found myself heading from the comfort of my Brookyln home, all the way to Webster Hall at 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday night.

This is my story.

I call up a car and upon entering, enjoy some light reparté with my Uber driver. As we get closer to Webster Hall, a new call comes in and we have to pick someone up on the way. My UberPool-mate was a young woman wearing an outfit obviously intended for the not-happening festival, and she looks a little out-of-place in the preternaturally calm East Village streets. We chat about the pop-up shows that were happening around the city, and she tells me that she’s okay with calling it a night after catching the Prophets of Rage show earlier at the Brooklyn Warsaw. It was all good, that is, until she notices that my destination is Webster Hall and asks, “Is that where the secret Kanye show is happening?! Did they finally announce it?!” Despite my warnings that nothing had been “officially” announced, she is already three-seconds-deep in frantic send-group-text-check-Twitter-and-repeat mode, spreading the word.

I recognize this now as divine foreshadowing from the universe of what is in store for me later that night.

I pull up to Webster Hall, despite colleagues warning me that 11th Street is an “alleged shit show,” and notice that all seems relatively calm given the circumstances. There are multiple lines forming and numerous security guards are already annoyed by the growing masses. I even overhear one hulky guy saying that he wasn’t suppose to work that night, but he and a bunch of others got called in last minute for a surprise event. Clearly, there is something happening, but as I see more and more confused kids scrambling around the perimeter of the venue, I decide to keep that tidbit of info to myself for later use. Using my guiles as a respectable journalist, I try to charm a security guard into telling me what he knows. He responds by saying that he doesn’t think anything is actually going on, but if there were something happening, he would “wait to the left.” I thanked him and grabbed a spot.

Now, I’m in line and I realize that I am not a minute too soon, as there are about 150 people ahead of me at this point. The crowd is growing exponentially by the second. Kids are running down 11th Street in droves. Within 15 minutes, there are an estimated 2500-3000 young people wrapped around 4th Avenue and onto 12th Street. Naturally, late-comers attempt to use the chat-and-cut technique to increase their odds of entry, but informal unions have formed and no one is having it. Phone screens light up the night sky as people Snapchat the loud boo-ing and pointing out anyone trying to get ahead in line, shaming them to the end of the line that is now several blocks away!

If you aren’t from or don’t live in New York, it is helpful to note that on the western corner of the block Webster Hall sits on there is a giant postal office. Apparently, social-media weaned millennials are unfamiliar with the U.S. Postal Service, so when a large mail truck arrives and the gates of the closed post office rise up, people lose their shit and the descent into chaos begins. The truck driver, clearly uninterested in what this giant crowd is doing here, slowly backs his vehicle into the landing area while line-standers seem bizarrely confused on what to do in order to not get ran over. The tension from thousands of bodies being pushed together begins to mount.

A brief chant of ‘U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!” emerges from the masses of people that has taken over the street entirely.

With the swell of people going absolutely insane, I feel the pressure from their presence on my chest and body as energy on the scene discernibly shifts from an energetic crowd to a crazed mob. Kids start pushing from every direction to storm Webster Hall, and I think to myself, “Is this how I leave this earth? Trampled by hypebeast teeny-boppers?” The thought shakes me to my core and I feel my age very acutely.

Actually, that was my first, “Fuck this, I’m out,” moment, of which there would be a few more by the time I actually went home (for the sake of journalism, y’all). A man in a painted denim jacket and Yeezy 950 combat boots leads his wife out of the crowd as she visibly fights off the beginnings of an anxiety attack. Recognizing that a) she possibly needed medical attention, and b) the only other people around me over the age of 21 were getting the hell out of this mess — I decided to follow suit and make my way to the periphery. My new friend (who also knew to get out of the crowd) posted up behind a car directly across the street from the main entrance. At this point, though, who even knows what a street is anymore.

Photo by Chad Batka for The New York Times

Photo by Chad Batka for The New York Times

Every so often, the security guards would try to make announcements, but all that did was rile the eager crowd up more. By then, all of 11th Street is a mass of hormonal and energetic young bodies, ready to erupt in “KANYE” or “Fuck Donald Trump!” chants at any moment. A$AP Rocky was allegedly spotted getting into the venue, as well as Pusha T (I overheard someone ask, ‘What is a Pusha T?’ Someone said that is happening.”) As rumors spread, people are sharing portable chargers and furiously checking Twitter for scraps of new information, while new theories quickly dispel old ones by the nanosecond. Everyone is scrambling to piece together the bits-and-pieces being unleashed online. One particular morsel was a Snap from the rapper 2 Chainz supposed inside the Webster Hall venue. Meanwhile, people are jumping on a car for a better view of the front of house, and the crowd behind them guilts them into getting down.

“Is that your car, bro? Respect that person’s car!!!” was yelled by the swaths of bodies. A new society has now emerged amongst the chaos and the rules are different. At this point, it is now slightly past 2:00 a.m., there are quite a few police officers visible inside the venue and there are talks of arrests beginning if people don’t clear the premises. Webster Hall general manager, Gerard McNamee, comes out with a megaphone announcing that the show has been canceled. People are reluctant to leave, but the crowd is noticeably thinning out by the time the big police truck arrives to kick everyone out. I realize quickly that I am well past being interested in staying for what happens next, and I use my first opportunity to escape the human barriers that have up until then been too difficult to fight through.

I request another UberPool home where my car-mate this time is a young man who is also leaving the almost-riotous scene. He is in a great mood, having just seen on Twitter that Kanye did, in fact, drive by the venue to wave to fans. Yes, Yeezy graced us with his presence but only left because he was physically restricted from entering Webster Hall. Simply knowing that he was in the proximity of the god Yeezus was enough for this young man to feel like he got his money’s worth. He felt that being in the crowd was an experience enough on its own, saying, “That was crazy, man. Maybe next time we’ll actually get to see him.” Just thinking of a “next time” makes me feel old and tired.

“Yeah, maybe next time,” I say in response to him with a smile, already thinking about my home and my soft, cushion-y bed.

Zephyr Doles is a New York based writer, DJ and scholar. Follow the latest + greatest from her on Twitter @Zephyr_Ann.


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